International Black Lives Matter protests continue into the weekend


The demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd continued into the weekend. The protests, which began at the end of last month after police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes have now taken on an International dimension.

This weeks protests have taken a hit domestically after Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations were targeted by agitators and far right groups in London. It is believed that the groups had mobilised with the intention of protecting statues around Parliament Square, including that of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. These fears had led to a planned demonstration in hyde park being cancelled. This contrasted with scenes in Brighton which saw thousands convey their message by forming a line across the seafront, though they had the fortune of not being impeded from doing so.

This has of course been a part of wider demonstrations across the United Kingdom, which has seen the reach of the protests spread. Over the past two weeks, demonstrations in London have been accompanied by similar showings in Reading, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Bristol, Manchester and even Swansea, among other places. Before this week’s hostilities, the demonstrations in London last Saturday saw thousands protest peacefully at the US embassy. This was followed on the Sunday by demonstrations at Parliament square, which drew the biggest turnout. Undoubtedly the most striking demonstration occurred in Bristol. As with most other areas, it was largely peaceful however the events in Bristol which saw the statue of Edward Colston, 17th century slave trader pulled down and toppled into Bristol’s harbour drew International attention. Colston's company transported more than 100,000 enslaved Africans across the Atlantic between 1672 and 1689 during the Atlantic slave trade. It is believed that More than 20,000 died during the journey.

This provoked condemnation from some quarters. The home Secretary, Priti Patel described the act as ‘utterly disgraceful’ and undermining the anti-racism protests. Labour leader Keir Starmer, also maintained that it was ‘completely wrong’ to tear down the statue “in that way”, though he conceded that it should have been taken down “a long time ago.”

Colston’s past as a slave trader has been under particular examination this week. This has included the reality of many who would travel on his Royal African company ships. Slaves would often become sick on his ships during the journey through the middle passage and as a result, were often thrown overboard. This was also the case for slaves deemed to be without economic value.

Increasingly though, the events in Bristol have been met with a shift in sentiment mirroring the frustration of many at the protesters. Marvin Rees, the Mayor of the Bristol told the BBC that the Home Secretary’s comments showed ‘a lack of understanding.’ He added:

“I can't and won't pretend the statue of a slave trader in a city I was born and grew up in wasn't an affront to me and people like me. "People in Bristol who don't want that statue in the middle of the city came together and it is my job to unite, hear those voices and hold those truths together for people for who that statue is a personal affront.”

In Swansea, South Wales there has been similar shows of support. Last week, groups gathered outside the National Waterfront Museum to issue their demand for change. Deborah Duke, who was a photographer on the ground during the day explained:

“I was really overwhelmed with the number of people that showed up, that made me happy. I wanted to cover something real, unity and love to be precise. People coming together to support the BLM movement and each other, understanding and opposing systematic racism that has kept black people at a disadvantage for years. This is not just in the US but in the UK as well, and it was beautiful.”

Swansea protests

The black lives matters protesters gather at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea. Pictures courtesy of Deborah Duke.

Swansea protests

Pictures courtesy of Deborah Duke.

Across Europe, anti-racism protests have also been occurring since the beginning of June. In Berlin, the scenes of thousands gathered outside the US embassy two weeks were followed by further demonstrations at the Alexanderplatztz last week. These were among the largest to take place so far in Germany with a further 20,000 on Munich, 14,000 in Hamburg and 10,000 in Stuttgart to add to the 15,000 in Berlin.

There were protests too in Copenhagen, with around 15,000 Gathering for the Black Lives Matter protests. Garda report that the crowds, which gathered at around 14:00 began their demonstration at the US embassy before marching through central Copenhagen. They add that these protests were not the first to be seen in Denmark, with significant turnouts in both Odense and Aarhus earlier in the week.

Pictures from Copenhagen protests

Pictures courtesy of Elizabeth Sonubi.

In Belgium, there has been similar disdain to that seen in Bristol regarding statues depicting colonial-era slave traders. This anger however has been directed at a figure of far greater historical significance. King Leopold II, who was the longest reigning Belgian monarch is estimated to have been responsible for the colonial genocide of upwards of 10 million Congolese during his reign of the Congo free state - today known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. His rule oversaw not only the genocide but exploitation of Congo's people and resources, with the fruits of this act still seen in public spheres. Protests have seen a bust defaced and smeared with red paint in Ghent; the face of the bust was gagged with a cover reading ‘I can’t breathe’. In Antwerp, another statue in honour of Leopold II has been vandalised and an online petition calling for all statues in his remembrance to be removed has amassed 78,000 signatures at the time of writing.

Elsewhere, German broadcaster DW report on how protests in Brazil directed at the policies of President Bolsonaro spilled into further anger over the death of black people in favelas. This comes after reports that the killing of black people in Rio Di Janeiro by police are at a record high. In an interview with German broadcaster DW, a protester said:

'Every 23 minutes in the world a young black person dies. We have to fight because of that. If we don't fight that will continue, and we will keep dying'

The protests are expected to continue well into the week.

Mayowa Ayodele